A Difficult (But Necessary) Step for Losing Weight 40+

difficult-and-necessary-step-for-weight-loss-40+

This post is inspired from some recent experiences with clients and workshop participants. At first glance, these people looked very different. But they had one thing in common. While they had hired me/ came out to listen to me speak, they both completely refused to take in what I had to share. They hired me for my expertise, then subsequently refused to take it.

Did I take it personally? No. Human behaviour is fascinating. We’re always a little bit of two minds about change – there’s a part of us who wants to change. And, a part of us who doesn’t. In both of these cases, the part of them that didn’t want to change won.

Why am I sharing this with you? I mean, it doesn’t make much business sense to share my failures with you. I’m sharing it with you because there’s a lesson to be learned. A lesson that you can apply to any aspect of your health, but especially for those of us 40+ folks who are looking to have a healthy weight.

The first step to making any change in life is letting go of our past habits and beliefs.

Elsa from Frozen has it right – let it go! Even Oprah is talking about letting it go in her O Magazine this month.

Letting go of past habits, no matter how much evidence we have that they aren’t working for us, is difficult. This is especially true when you want to lose weight and you’ve been on diets in the past that haven’t worked. It’s amazing how often clients hire me because they’re at their heaviest ever, yet they’re still doing habits from past diets. Diets that obviously haven’t worked (at least long-term). Or, the diets worked when young, but they don’t work for us 40+ folks.

The most difficult step in losing weight in middle-age is letting go of past habits. Giving up things like:

  • Weighing yourself daily.
  • Counting calories.
  • Writing down every morsel that you eat.
  • Eating zero carbs.
  • Aiming for a magical number on the scale from your 20’s – pre-busy life, pre-kids, etc.
  • Denying yourself the pleasure of favourite foods.
  • Nutrition mis-information that you’ve accepted as fact.

You see, when people come to me they are hardly blank slates. What I’ve found is that once people let go of these past habits, weight loss follows. I’d call it magic if I wasn’t so science-based.

So I leave you with an important question: what do you need to let go of in order to achieve your happy weight?

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Banana Lentil Muffins

lentil-banana-muffins

Banana lentil muffins. Yes, you read that right - banana LENTIL muffins. Lentils can be used in baking.

Including lentils in baking is a fantastic way to reduce the amount of refined flour we eat and get more iron, fibre, and protein. Take note parents of picky eater kiddos who don't like most protein or iron-rich foods. Tip: Serve the muffins with a source of vitamin C (such as berries) to maximize absorption of that iron.

We made this recipe for mini muffins, so that they're a good size for little hands (and tummies). Us big kids can choose to eat 2 - 3 of them in the place of a regular-size muffin. Or bake yours in a regular-size muffin tray and adjust the baking time. We didn't test the baking time for regular-size muffins so I don't have a time to give you (sorry). Keep a close eye on them and use the ever-trusty toothpick-in-the-centre test.

Enjoy!


Banana Lentil Muffins Ingredients

  • 1 cup of ripe bananas (or 2 ripe medium bananas)
  • 1 cup red or green lentil puree (1 cup of lentils boiled in water for 40-45 minutes, drained then pureed)
  • 1 Egg
  • ¼ cup of maple syrup
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup of oat flour (blended old fashioned oats)
  • 1/2 cup of all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup oil (vegetable, avocado, canola or olive)
  • 1/2 cup of chocolate chips (optional)
  • 1/4 cup of crushed walnuts (optional)

Banana Lentil Muffins Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 300°F (150°C).
  2. In a bowl, combine all wet ingredients (egg, oil, maple syrup, bananas, lentil purée and vanilla. Mix well.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together (flour, oat flour, baking soda, baking powder, walnuts and chocolate chips).
  4. Stir into the egg mixture until mixed.
  5. Grease the muffin tins with oil.
  6. Bake for 15-20 minutes.
  7. ENJOY!

Don't Monitor Your Body

dont-monitor-your-body

Ok, I admit that I’ve been procrastinating on writing this post for a couple of weeks now. I feel compelled to address this topic. Because it’s absolutely fundamental to being healthy. To having a healthy relationship with food, a healthy relationship with your body, being a healthy eater.

It’s something that I know as truth. But I’m struggling to articulate the concept clearly. I’ve been procrastinating until I have the perfect words to express it. Did you notice that I didn’t send you a message last week? Yup, I was deep in procrastination.

Why am I procrastinating so badly? Because it’s such an important concept that I want to communicate it clearly and you’ll understand completely.

The perfect words have not revealed themselves to me. Yet. However, I feel compelled to act. I can no longer keep this concept to myself. Or, shall I more accurately say, keep this concept between myself and the clients who work with me one-to-one in my 40 Days to a Happy, Healthy You program.

So here I go with my attempt to communicate this truth with you. And what I’ve decided to do is share with you, each Friday on Facebook, others who I see are walking on this path too. For clarification. For inspiration. Because maybe I don’t have the perfect words to express this to you. Maybe one of these other folks will create the “ah-ha” moment for you.

So what’s this concept that has me so worked up that my perfectionistic tendencies have me paralyzed?

Experience your body. Don’t observe it.

As women in our culture, we’re so disconnected from our bodies. We’re taught that our bodies are something to observe, to monitor, to control. How do we know what our bodies are doing? We weigh ourselves on a scale. We look at ourselves in a mirror. We read the labels on our clothes to see what the size is. We write down what we eat (on paper or in an app). We wear trackers to count our steps, to record our heart rate.

NO! Our bodies are our selves. They aren’t something separate from us. They ARE us. Mind-BODY-soul, that’s what makes a human being. Okay, you may not believe in souls, but the mind and body are still there. How can we know what our bodies are doing? We’re aware while we’re doing it. We feel emotions. We feel sensations. The concept of mindfulness captures this, except it’s named badly. Because I want you to get out of your mind and connect with your body. Perhaps it should be called “experience-fulness”.

Want to see “experience-fulness” in action? Watch a baby dance to music. They aren’t thinking “step left, step right, I know my body will look attractive if I bend in this direction”. They aren’t thinking at all. They’re feeling the music, experiencing the music, enjoying the music, and their body responds.

Consider the flip-side that I see so often when working with women.

When I’m working with women, the hardest things for them to do is to stop weighing themselves every day and stop writing down what they eat every day. They hold on to these so tightly because how else will they know if they’re being “good”, doing the “right” thing? The answer is so obvious, yet so different from what we’ve been trained to do. Take the actions that I’ve given them in their action plan. If they did them (i.e. experienced it), then they’ll know that they were “good”, did the “right” thing. The action-taking, the experience, is the proof – not some monitor.

Or, take for example the phrase that I hear women say so often: “I forgot to eat today.” NO! Eating isn’t a cognitive thing. Remembering to pick up the dry cleaning is a cognitive thing. You can forget to pick up the dry cleaning. You body sends you the feeling of being hungry to stimulate you to eat. You can’t forget to eat. You can disconnect yourself from your body’s sensations and not eat.

Liberate yourself from the shackles of monitoring your body to experience the joy of health.

P.S. Join me in Facebook for inspiration.

What Do You Like About Your Body Today?

what-do-you-like-about-your-body

I’ve had similar conversations this past week with a number of the women starting my 40 Days to a Happy Healthy You weight loss program. Whenever I find myself having the same conversation over and over again with people in the program, I know that it’s a topic that I need to share with you too. So what’s this particular conversation about? It’s regarding the daily ‘what I like about my body’ practice that’s a part of the weight loss program. They find it really hard. They hate it.

Clients tell me that what they were worried about before starting the program was giving up their favourite foods or being forced to eat foods they hated. They’re super happy to discover that the weight loss program doesn’t require them to do this - i.e. they can still lose weight without giving up favourite foods or being forced to eat things that they hate. But they find it really difficult to come up with one thing that they like about their bodies every day.

And that sad fact is a complete eye opener. It’s amazing to see how this simple, daily practice can have such a profound effect on participants.

Their first big ah-ha moment is seeing how tough it is to do. Their second big a-ha moment is to realize how much they only experienced their bodies as objects to be looked at – not as a part of themselves whose purpose is to DO things. You see, they automatically think that each day they need to come up with something that they like the LOOK of on their body – like having a great hair day or their shapely calves. When I point out that they don’t need to choose one thing about how their body LOOKS but can include things that their body can DO, they see how they’ve missed such a huge thing. “Right, I can be grateful that my body can DO things, d’oh”.

Most of us don’t think about our bodies as part of us. As the part of us that allows us to DO things – like how our eyes allow us to see the beautiful snow dusted mountains in the distance, or go for a walk with our dog, or hug our grandchildren. Most of us solely think about our bodies in terms of how far they are from a societal beauty ideal.

Back in my PhD-level feminism class, we talked about how unfair it was that women in our society had this expectation for their bodies to solely be objects whose purpose was to create pleasure for the (male) viewer. We wished it could be more even between men and women. Now, 15 years later, it’s a classic case of beware of what you wish for. Yes, things have gotten more equal between men and women. Unfortunately, the pressure on women to look like some unrealistic beauty ideal hasn’t let up. The pressure has increased for men to look like an unrealistic ideal.

Now don’t get me wrong. This doesn’t mean that I think it’s bad to want to look good. Hey, I like a good blowout and a pair of heels as much as the next woman. But I want to both look good AND feel good -strong, healthy. While I love to get dolled up for a night out, I feel my absolutely most beautiful when I’m “in the zone” on a technically difficult trail run, or when I’m glowing after a yoga class, or when I’m bundled up in warm layers and my rain boots after a surf. Why? Because I am experiencing the joy of what my body can DO.

Do you know what you should eat but can’t seem to do it? Long-term healthy habits need to come from a place of valuing your self, valuing your body. If hating your body is fueling your behaviour, that behaviour isn’t going to stick. Include a daily ‘what I like about my body’ practice. It’s a radical, rebellious act that your body will love. And, when you’re ready to really create change, check out my 40 Days to a Happy Healthy You weight loss program to start 2017 with a new you.

Remove this Sentence to Keep Away Your Diet Self-Saboteur

keep away your diet self-saboteur

Okay, fair warning. It’s rant time. I’ve got something stuck in my craw again and I’m throwing off my sunshine & rainbows positivity hat and going deep.

There’s a sentence that I hear people say when they’re talking about food. People say it all the time. But just because people say it frequently, it doesn’t mean that it’s true.

So, what’s this phrase that has me all hot and bothered?

“I can’t have that.”

Unless you have a serious food allergy and will go in to analphyactic shock, you can eat a food. But you may choose not to eat it.

If you’re vegan, you choose not to eat animal products because of your ethics. If you are Jewish, you may choose to eat kosher because of your faith. If you have food sensitivities, you choose to avoid eating those foods because you are choosing to avoid the symptoms that they cause. If you are on a diet/cleanse/meal plan that doesn’t allow certain foods, you are choosing to follow that diet/cleanse/meal plan.

Why am I going on and on about something that just seems like minor semantics? Because the way we think about food, also called our relationship with food, can either help us be healthy or it can work against us. Changing “can’t” into “choose” is one path to creating a healthy relationship with food.

There are two reasons why saying “I can’t have that” works against you:

  1. We’re all rebels. Making something taboo, off limits, a ‘can’t-have’ naturally drives us towards it. There’s nothing to make you want to eat ice cream more than to say that you’ll never eat it again. Saying, “no thank you, I don’t choose to have ice cream today” doesn’t trigger your inner self-saboteur in the same way.
  2. Be active in your life. “I choose” is active language. It’s empowering – you’ve made a choice. It re-confirms a commitment that you’ve made. In contrast, “I can’t” is victim language. Something is being done to you. As an adult, you have the power to choose what you eat and when you eat it. Don’t give away your power. You can turn to experts to give you advice on what to eat, but the ultimate choice, responsibility, power, remains with you. Foster this power. Each time you say “I choose _______” you are reinforcing your power.

With your newly opened eyes (and ears), read the two responses in the following scenario. Even better, read them aloud. Can you hear the difference? Can you feel the difference?

Scenario: Someone offers you a tray of cookies.

You respond: “No thank you. I’m choosing to eat less sugar.”

versus

“I’d love a cookie but I can’t have one.”

Keep away your diet self-saboteur – remove “I can’t” from your lexicon.

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Choose Food for What IS in It

choose food for what is in it

Choosing food for what isn’t in it has been the gateway to a whole lot of ridiculous food trends. I’m old enough to remember when everyone was talking about avoiding eating cholesterol. Like weeds, up sprung “cholesterol-free” labels on all sorts of foods in the grocery store. Highly processed foods like cookies, crackers, sugary breakfast cereals all had “cholesterol-free” emblazoned across them. People heard that cholesterol meant heart attacks so choosing low-cholesterol foods must be healthy choices. Right? Boy were people wrong. These foods were just as unhealthy as they were before they were marked with “cholesterol-free”. What’s worse, is that many people were happily scarfing down huge portions of these foods because they were cholesterol-free.

An example of this type of thinking/ behaviour: before, I might have had a couple of handfuls of potato chips but now I can eat an entire large bag because they’re cholesterol-free.

It sounds ridiculous when I break it down this way but it was happening. A lot. A particularly amusing label that I remember was bananas sporting “cholesterol-free” stickers. Why is this amusing? Because cholesterol is a fat made by some animals. That’s why it’s found in red meat…and us. Bananas, are a fruit (not an animal). They never did contain cholesterol. Bananas hadn’t changed. But here they were now labeled “cholesterol-free” and people were flocking to them.

I’m seeing this now with the gluten-free trend. “Gluten-free” is announced across all sorts of foods. Many of which never contained any gluten in the first place (thus, like bananas and cholesterol). These foods range from healthy choices to unhealthy choices. People are choosing them because “gluten-free” now equals “healthy” in many people’s minds. But the presence or absence of gluten has nothing to do with it. A chocolate cupcake isn’t a healthy choice suddenly because it’s gluten-free. It’s still a treat to be enjoyed once in a while – not by the dozen.

I’m not commenting on whether eating cholesterol was healthy or unhealthy. Nor whether people should eat or avoid gluten. That’s completely beside that point. What I want to draw your attention to is that when you choose foods for what isn’t in them, you leave yourself at risk for falling for these marketing traps.

Instead I want you to turn it completely upside down. Choose food for what IS in it. Your body needs to be nourished. You need to fuel it with good food and all the vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants, energy and other nutrients that it needs. Make most of what you eat be foods close to the way that Mother Nature made them (i.e. minimally processed) where all the good stuff hasn’t been removed through processing. Sometimes enjoy foods that you eat solely for pleasure.

Respect food for what it can offer. Respect your body and feed it well. Yes, in a world where we’re almost constantly told to hate our bodies, this act of choosing to nourish yourself can feel like a small act of rebellion. And so, I say it again:

Choose food for what IS in it. You’re worth it.

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Truth or Myth: Eating at Night Makes you Fat

eating at night fat

One of the myths that seems to have real staying power is that eating after 7pm will make you fat. I can’t tell you how many times people “confess” their eating “sin” to me that while they try not to eat after 7pm, they just can’t stop. I have good news for you. There isn’t anything magical that happens at 7pm. We aren’t Cinderella – our metabolism doesn’t turn back into a pumpkin when the clock strikes 7pm. (Sorry, couldn't resist using the pumpkin analogy there - I'm writing this on Hallowe'en afterall).

Hey, I understand why this myth persists. People love to learn that there is a simple, all-powerful reason why they can’t seem to lose weight. That there’s some secret that slim people know.

What’s more, when the so-called “simple” secret is unattainable for most of us, it empowers the diet industry by feeding in to the dieting-shame-guilt cycle that most women are stuck in. I.e., it’s your fault that you can’t organize your life well enough to eat before 7pm. And, you’re too weak to have the willpower to not eat again afterwards.

I have good news. Eating at night doesn’t make you fat.

If it did, every single person in Spain would be obese. Their tradition is to eat late at night. Last month in Barcelona, Granada, and Gran Canaria, I was amazed to see families with young children (we’re talking toddlers and preschoolers) out eating at cafes at 11pm.

Now me saying that doesn’t give you free reign to sit on the couch for hours every night mindlessly scarfing down entire bags of popcorn, chips and candy. Because that habit will cause weight gain. But it’s not the time on the clock that’s the problem here. Mindlessly eating loads of junk food day after day isn’t a healthy habit no matter what time the clock says.

So, what’s the solution? The solution depends on the root cause of your night-time hunger. First, do a little self-assessment. Why might you be hungry at night? It’s likely not your lack of willpower. There are a number of reasons. Some include:

  • We humans digest food and naturally become hungry again in about 4 hours. So, if you eat dinner at 6pm and you go to bed at 11pm, you likely will be hungry around 9:30-10pm.
  • If you watch TV, all the food ads will stimulate you to want to eat.
  • If you have skipped meals, or made some common eating mistakes earlier in the day, you may be experiencing rebound low blood sugar (which causes cravings for high-salt, high-fat, high-sugar, highly processed foods).
  • If your days are constant stress and you don’t have a lot of tools in your self-care toolbox, you may be craving comfort foods as a method of self-care.
  • If you live alone, you may be eating out of boredom and loneliness. (See note above re: comfort food and self-care).
  • Our bodies are amazing at learning patterns. You may have a learned association of eating at night even if you aren’t hungry.

Understanding these common causes of out-of-control eating at night, you can see how these are some steps to take to turn things around:

  • Don’t sweat it if it’s after 7pm by the time you get home from work/ the kids’ extra-curricular activities and get a healthy dinner on the table. Drop the guilt over how you’ve “failed” because you can’t make it all happen before 7pm. There is no problem with eating your dinner after 7pm. Instead, offer yourself a huge “congratulations” for making it all happen!
  • If you eat earlier and there will be more than 4 hours between dinner and bedtime, plan a healthy snack. It’s a great opportunity for a serving of vegetables or fruit paired with some protein-rich foods. An apple and cheese is a favourite evening snack of mine. So is edamame with raw carrots.
  • Turn off the TV. Choose other activities to wind down at night.
  • Build up your self-care toolkit.

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Why I Don’t Believe in Cheat Days

Why-I-Dont-Believe-in-Cheat-Days

If we’ve been connected for a while, you’ll know that I prefer to be positive. I talk about the things I want you to do more of, eat more of, instead of the things I want you to cut out of your diet. But every once in a while something gets stuck in my craw and I feel the need to speak out about it. Loudly. Rant-style. The ubiquitous concept of cheat days is one of these things that cause me to want to scream from the rooftops. So here I go…

I’m completely against cheat days. Let me repeat that because I feel so strongly about it. Completely. Against. Cheat days. Cheat days set us up to have a negative relationship with food. I’ve found that the secret to achieving, and keeping, your happy weight is to first create a healthy relationship with food. Then the weight loss will follow. Cheat days take you further away from your goal of a healthy weight and feeling happy about your body.

First, let’s look at the term ‘cheat days’. ‘Cheat’ implies that you’ve done something wrong. Cheating on a test is wrong. Cheating on your spouse is wrong. Who, or what, are you cheating on when having a ‘cheat’ day? On your diet? A diet’s purpose is to serve you – not for you be loyal to it.

Most people go on a diet to be healthy. I’ve got some excellent news for you – to be healthy we don’t need to follow a diet where every single morsel of food serves only to supply essential nutrients to your body. True health means having a healthy mind and a healthy body. A truly healthy diet meets your body’s need for nutrients AND you enjoy the pleasure that food can provide AND you feel connected to family and culture. Each of these three factors is equally important. To eat in a way that promotes a healthy mind and body, you need to be able to balance these three factors. That balance will look different from one day to the next. Some days you’ll put more focus on giving your body healthy fuel. Some days you’ll put more focus on enjoying food for pleasure. You could say that this looks like cheat days. What you eat may look the same. But the psychology behind it is completely different.

That psychological difference is really important. True health means having a healthy body and a healthy mind. It’s simply not healthy if you eat in a way that supports your body to be healthy but you’re filled with thoughts about self-deprivation regarding food followed by guilt and shame when you eat something for pleasure. I was very happy when the medical world recognized the extreme end of this as an eating disorder and called it orthorexia. However, research shows that this is a continuum. And, most women in North America are somewhere along the unhealthy end of the continuum. And just because it’s ‘normal’ to have a complicated, negative relationship with food and your body, it doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. Nor, that life has to be this way.

In summary, don’t have cheat days. Instead, on some days, choose food for pleasure and connection to family and culture instead of its nutrients. Ditch the guilt and negativity associated with “cheating”. Heal your relationship with food, and your weight loss will follow.

Start Your Day by Setting an Intention

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In a podcast that I was listening to recently, the speaker suggested starting each day by setting an intention for the day. I’ve been doing it myself and LOVING it. The rest of the day, when I’m making choices about what I get up to, I think back on my intention and decide if my action would fit with that day’s intention or go against my intention.

This idea is amazingly simple and easy to do. When your alarm rings in the morning, before you get out of bed, before you check your phone, or check on your kids, or whatever else you do, take a moment to set an intention for the day. Complete this statement: My intention for today is _______________________.

Here’s why I’m recommending it to you. Most of our day is spent racing from activity to activity. Especially us women. We spend the entire day taking care of others. Being a mother, sister, friend, employee, boss, volunteer, etc. It’s incredibly valuable to have the very first thing you do in a day be something you do for you. You’re signalling to yourself that you’re putting ‘you’ on the agenda. The chronic stress that is our modern reality runs havoc on our hormones, leading to cravings and weight gain. Taking this brief moment is a powerful way to wait a beat before that stressful day starts.

To combat the chronic stress (and the impact on their hormones), I always ask clients who participate in my 40 Days to a Happy Healthy You program, to integrate brief mindfulness practices into their day – a brief daily practice and evening practice. I’ll be adding a morning intention-setting practice to their action plans from now on so that they can get the benefits. Why not start your intention-setting practice tomorrow so that you can start experiencing the benefits?

NGC*: Spa Water

Healthy Spa Water with Fruit

I’ve talked previously about how being adequately hydrated is a NGC. But drinking plain water day after day can become boring. A solution is to mix it up – to reignite your interest with flavoured water (a.k.a. spa water). When I mention flavouring water, your mind likely jumps to lemon water. Here are 2 warnings when choosing flavoured waters.

Acid & Tooth Enamel Now don’t get me started on how there is no evidence that lemon water is the miracle cure that it’s touted to be all over the internet. Unfortunately there is a downfall from all the attention that lemon water is getting. The natural acid that’s in citrus fruits (e.g. lemon, lime, orange) can cause weakening of your tooth enamel, especially if you sip on them all day, day after day. Kiwi and pineapple are also quite high in acid. To save your tooth enamel, mix it up. Choose non-citrus options more often and choose citrus options only occasionally.

Hidden Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners The other common downfall to avoid is that many flavoured waters that you can buy contain hidden sugar and/or artificial sweeteners. I’m not against the occasional use of artificial sweeteners, afterall, officially they are approved as safe for use in Canada. However, one of the overarching truths in which I believe when it comes to nutrition is: “food closest to the way nature made them are the healthiest choice”. Artificial sweeteners are far from nature. Therefore, stick with drinks that are close to nature for your day in and day out water consumption.

Spa Water Ideas: Here are some low-acid, low-sugar and artificial sugar-free spa water options. The herbs have the lowest natural acids (i.e. none). The fruits all have a little bit of acid. But don’t focus on what these drinks don’t have, instead focus on what they do have – fantastic flavour! I call them “spa water” – doesn’t that sound luxurious? Feel free to bring out your inner mixologist to create your favourite flavour combinations.

• Mint • Rosemary • Lemon Verbena • Sage • Basil • Cucumber • Watermelon • Berries such as strawberries, blackberries, blueberries • Iced green tea • Iced herbal tea • Kombutcha • Concord or coronation grapes

*A Nutrition Game Changer (NGC) is a food or habit that has made a big impact on the nutritional health of clients I’ve worked with. And, in my life too. Some may call these nutrition hacks. But I'm not a fan of that phrase. I share one NGC each month.

Your Health is like a Bank Account

piggy bank

Today’s post is inspired by a conversation that I had with a client over the weekend. It’s a conversation that I have with most clients. We women tend to hold ourselves to a very high standard. There can be a good side of this; it helps us strive towards excellence. And, there can be a downside of this; being very hard on ourselves when we don’t live up to our expectations.

When applied to our relationship with food, I call it the dieting mentality. Going on a diet means that starting XX day, I’ll eat “perfectly” according to [insert name of plan]. I’ll never again eat sugar, highly processed foods, caffeine, [insert “bad” food]. Which sounds good. Except that life gets in the way. We get busy. We get stressed out. We get invited to a party. The holiday season arrives. Inevitably we eat the “bad” food. And, we slip back into our old habits. What follows? Our negative self-talk. We scold ourselves for misbehaving. We blame ourselves for not having the strength to stick to our new diet.

If this sounds familiar, I have some very, very good news for you. Being healthy doesn’t require us to eat “perfectly”. This dieting mentality has got it all wrong. Our bodies are amazing. They’re designed to be forgiving; to operate well even without the perfect fuel every day.

Here’s the analogy that I like to use to explain this phenomenon:

Our health is like a bank account. Every healthy meal and snack that we eat is like depositing money in a bank account. The more healthy choices you make, the more your bank balance increases.

There will also be days and weeks where you don’t make healthy choices – where you make withdrawals. If your typical eating habits are healthy, you have a big balance and it’s okay to take some withdrawals because your bank balance can take it. When life returns back to normal, you can start depositing money back into your account and build your bank balance back up again.

But, if your daily eating habits aren’t healthy, then your bank balance is near zero. When the crazy stressful times come, you don’t have much to draw from and soon you’ll be in overdraft. You’ll experience negative health consequences. You’ll be running on empty.

I hope that you can see how different this concept of healthy eating is versus the dieting mentality. The bank account mentality assumes that you’ll have times when you’ll eat unhealthy. Eating unhealthy isn’t “failure”; it’s a normal part of life. As such, there’s no need to be hard on yourself, to feel shame, to feel guilt. Instead, it’s an opportunity to be grateful – to recognize and congratulate yourself for building up your bank account to carry you through the stressful time. And, to be amazed at how resilient our bodies are.

Free yourself from the perfectionistic fear of food. Enjoy the journey of making deposits and withdrawals from your health bank account.

NGC*: Meal Planning

nutrition game changer meal planning

When working with women who want to eat better, one of the least popular recommendations that I make is creating a meal plan. When I suggest creating a meal plan, I’m usually met with a response along the lines of:

“I’m already crazy-busy. How am I supposed to add one more thing to my life?!”

I understand this knee-jerk resistance. At first it does seem like making a meal plan is adding more to your already overly full schedule. But, in reality it actually saves time and stress. I grew up watching ‘80s cartoons. One show had a saying that they’d repeat:

“Knowing is half the battle”

This phrase is true when it comes to meal planning. While it does take time to sit down and create a meal plan, doing so will save you hours of stressful time each week. From your meal plan you can prepare a grocery list. Think about how much more time you have if you’re only going to the grocery store once or twice a week (I’ve had lots of clients tell me they end up grocery shopping every day because they don’t have a plan). Think of how much time you’ll save if you have what you need in the fridge to turn tonight’s leftovers into tomorrow’s dinner. You could even do Thursday’s lunch and dinner meal prep on Wednesday while you’re in the kitchen waiting for dinner to cook. Efficiency – what?!

Having a meal plan will also save you money and stress. Imagine no more: • Last-minute trips to the grocery store when you’re hungry. • Staring blankly into your fridge. • Garbage bins full of veggies, bought with the best of intentions, but now gone bad.

While the knee-jerk resistance to meal planning is the time it takes, I suspect that there’s a deeper source to the resistance. For many of us, the only experience that we’ve had with meal plans is when on strict diets. We subconsciously associate meal planning with deprivation, forced structure, and failure. No wonder we don’t want to meal plan. Take a moment to check in with yourself. Does the structure of a meal plan make you feel constrained? If so, let’s take this opportunity to re-frame meal plans. It’s your life. It’s your meal plan. Plan what you want to eat. This is a tool to serve you – not the other way around.

Lastly, and very importantly, it’s your plan – change it whenever you want! Did you plan to make a complicated, new recipe tonight but you had an awful day and all you want to do is order pizza? Order the pizza! Savour the pizza! And, revise your plan so that the ingredients that you bought for that new dish are used up before they go bad.

Not convinced? Give it a try, just for this month. It’s only 4 weeks. Summer is fleeting. If meal planning can save you time, this is the perfect month to try it!

*A Nutrition Game Changer (NGC) is a food or habit that has made a big impact on the nutritional health of clients I’ve worked with. And, in my life too. Some may call these nutrition hacks. But I'm not a fan of that phrase. I share one NGC each month.

Busting Some Big Fat Myths

fat-myths

Most clients I work with have an uneasy relationship with fat. Its no wonder. In my 21 years of nutrition experience, I’ve seen the pendulum swing from one extreme to the other regarding fat. I was in University training to become a dietitian during the fat-phobic years. Back when everyone ”knew” that fat was bad for you. To be healthy, you needed to eat a low-fat diet. Pasta and bagels were the king and queen. Practically every parent fed their babies yams and rice cereal as their first foods.

Contrast that to the present where my social media streams are full of avocado recipes and articles espousing the benefits of coconut oil. Parents feed their babies avocado as their first food and ask me whether kids should be taking omega-3 supplements.

Now if that wasn’t confusing enough, you need to add to the mix the fact that the word for “fat” found in food is the same as the word we use to describe someone as being overweight. Experiencing some low self-esteem? You may call it having a “fat” day. In our mainstream culture, “fat” is a derogatory term. That’s why the term “phat” is so clever. And, why there is a movement to reclaim the term. They wouldn’t need to reclaim it if it wasn’t derogatory.

The reality is that fat, like all foods, doesn’t fall into a “always” or “never” category. Like all foods, to be healthy, we need to eat fat in balance. Because we need fat.

Pro’s:

  • Fat is an essential part of our bodies. It’s used throughout the body. One area that it plays a particularly strong role is in our brain and nervous system.
  • There are some vitamins that we need fat to absorb. These are called the fat-soluble vitamins. The fat-soluble vitamins are vitamins A, D, E and K.
  • Fat doesn’t raise our blood sugar.
  • Fat helps keep us full for longer after we eat a meal.
  • Last, but certainly not least, fat tastes fantastic! Whether it’s a creamy, oozy brie, a handful of macadamia nuts, a well-marbled steak, or chocolate melting over your tongue, you can’t deny the pleasure that we receive from fat.

Con’s:

  • Bite for bite, fat is the most concentrated source of calories. In our largely sedentary, modern world, it’s easy to eat more calories in a day than we burn.
  • Trans fat is dangerous for our hearts. Thankfully, most of the trans fat has been removed from our food supply. But it’s still found in deep fried foods. Well, let me be more specific. It’s found in heavily-used deep frying oil. When you cook fries, calamari, chicken fingers, etc in that old oil, the food absorbs it.

Unknown:

  • The scientific community has continued to study heart disease and its causes. Some of the early conclusions about saturated fat and the risk of heart disease are being re-considered. This has drawn considerable media attention with conclusions such as saturated fat is healthy. I don’t go that far. I'm waiting for more research before I have an opinion on the healthiness of saturated fat.
  •  It’s suspected that having an unbalanced omega 3:omega-6 fat ratio contributes to inflammation, which may be at the root of things like heart disease, other diseases, and general aging. The perfect ratio isn’t yet known. But most of us in our modern eating habits likely eat too much omega-6 in relation to omega-3. The answer is to eat more fish, nuts/seeds, avocado, and olive oil, and less highly processed foods.

What to Do in the Meantime:

  • Don’t be fat phobic. Enjoy the pleasure that fat provides. Drop the guilt when enjoying treats and reap the maximum pleasure per bite.
  • Eat fish twice a week or take fish oil supplements. Don’t consume fish? Go for an algae-based omega-3 supplement.
  • Include nuts and seeds daily. Ideas include: sprinkling some hemp hearts on your morning cereal and having a handful of almonds at mid-afternoon snack.
  • Include monounsaturated fat-rich foods several times a week (if not daily). Olive oil and avocados are two examples of monounsaturated fat-rich foods. Use olive oil for cold foods (e.g. salad dressing) and foods cooked at low temperature (e.g. roasting veggies). Give the avocado-toast trend a try or substitute avocado for mayo in your egg salad sandwich.
  • Eat more foods that are close to the way nature made them and fewer highly processed foods. Another way of saying this is :“Eat foods that someone’s great-grandmother would recognize.”
  • Work towards changing your relationship with your body. Be grateful for what it (you) can do. Transition away from focusing on the ways it doesn’t live up to our society’s beauty standard.

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NGC*: Sleep

sleep

Today I’m coming to you with some news that I know you’ll like. Which is a treat for me because usually I’m the bearer of bad news – telling you to eat less sugar, drink less alcohol, etc. Today I’m not telling you to do less of something enjoyable. I’m telling you to do more of something enjoyable.

I want you to get more sleep.

The old advice in the weight loss world was no pain no gain. Get up earlier or stay up later so that you could hit the gym.

That old advice jut doesn’t hold up anymore. There is an ever-growing body of research that shows how important adequate sleep is for a healthy weight. Or, to be more accurate, the research is showing that chronic sleep deprivation contributes to weight gain.

So many of us are chronically sleep deprived. We brag about being tired and wear being “busy” as a badge of honour. I believe this needs to stop.

Chronic sleep deprivation means getting less than 7-8 hours of good-quality sleep for at least a few days in a row. Note that there are a few important points in my last sentence. First: the amount of sleep, 7-8 hours. Second: that it takes only a few days in a row to be considered sleep deprived (not the weeks, months, years that I know many of you experience). Third: the quality of sleep is as important as the number of hours.

What affects quality of sleep? Two things that often are overlooked are alcohol and sleep apnea. Yes, it’s true that having a couple of drinks can help you fall asleep. But alcohol interferes with the natural brain patterns during sleep. The result is poor quality sleep. Want to wake up feeling refreshed? Skip the alcohol the night before.

Sleep apnea negatively impacts the quality of your sleep. Sleep apnea and weight have a vicious cycle. Being overweight increases sleep apnea and sleep apnea increases weight gain. I always look for any suspicion of sleep apnea when starting with a client because I know that if there is unaddressed sleep apnea, we can change the client’s eating all we want and we won’t see much change in weight.

How does inadequate (either not enough or poor quality) sleep cause weight gain? There are several ways that the research is finding:

  • Opportunity to Eat. When you are awake longer, you have more time to eat. This is especially impactful if you get the evening munchies. Staying up later means more opportunity to munch away.
  • Craving Pleasure. Sleep deprivation lowers the chemicals in our brain’s pleasure centre. Our brain sends us strong signals to raise these chemicals back up again. The foods that raise these chemicals? Highly processed high sugar, high fat, high salt foods – i.e. “junk food”.
  • Slower Metabolism. There is evidence that being sleep deprived slows down our metabolism. So even if we were eating the same amount of food as if we were well-slept, we’d still get weight gain.
  • Recently a study caught my eye. Now this involved only a small handful of people. So I’d call it preliminary – not enough evidence that I’d put a lot of trust in it yet. But it was interesting nevertheless. In this study they found that having only 4.5 hours of sleep for several nights in a row stimulated the same chemical pathway in the subjects’ brains as is stimulated when you smoke marijuana. Yes, being sleep deprived gave these study participants the munchies.

So what to do? Make getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep a priority. What can you let go of to make this happen? Perhaps it’s turning off that evening Netflix. Maybe it’s hiring a house cleaner or gardener so you have fewer chores. And, if you routinely get 7 – 8 hours of sleep but you still wake up feeling exhausted, skip the daily glass (or two) of wine or ask your doctor for a referral for sleep apnea screening.

*A Nutrition Game Changer (NGC) is a food or habit that has made a big impact on the nutritional health of clients I’ve worked with. And, in my life too. Some may call these nutrition hacks. But I'm not a fan of that phrase. I share one NGC each month.

2 Favourite, Filling Salads

Full-meal salads are my absolute go-to during the summer months. And, with the growing trend of salads-in-a-jar, I can see that others are catching on. The secret to a perfectly balanced, full-meal salad (that will actually fill you up) is to include whole grains, protein, and healthy fats along with all those veggies. I also like to include a sweet note (such as fresh or dried fruit) and something crunchy for texture. Often foods will do double duty, such as chopped nuts providing protein, healthy fat, and crunch.

Baby- and Kid-Friendly Version: Serve each salad component “deconstructed”, in it’s own little pile. Serve a small dish (ramekin) of the dressing on the side. Or, do a make-your-own salad bar with the ingredients. There is no extra work for baby-friendly, finger-foods – just place pieces on your baby’s tray.

Enjoy!

Protein Food Ideas:

  • Beans and lentils, canned or cooked from dry
  • Edamame
  • Tofu cut into cubes or fingers
  • Grated or cubed cheese
  • Leftover meat and poultry, e.g. shredded chicken, sliced steak
  • Chopped or slivered nuts
  • Seeds, e.g. pumpkin seeds, hemp hearts
  • Hard boiled eggs

Whole Grain Ideas (Starch Foods):

  • Cooked and cooled pasta
  • Buckwheat (soba) noodles
  • Brown rice
  • Wild rice
  • Quinoa
  • Farro
  • Pot barley
  • Cooked and cubed sweet potatoes

For inspiration, here are two of my favourite full-meal salads. You’ll notice that there aren’t amounts listed for the salad ingredients – make as much or as little as you want.

Black Bean Salad

black bean salad_medmed

Ingredients

Brown rice

Black beans

Bell pepper (red, yellow, or orange)

Corn (cooked from frozen or cut off the cob)

Avocado

Dressing

1 TBSP            Vegetable oil (I particularly like avocado oil)

1 TBSP            White wine vinegar

2 TBSP            Lime juice

1/4 tsp           Ground cumin

1/8 tsp           Cayenne pepper (optional)

Pinch              Salt

Lentil-Farro Salad

lentil farro salad_medmed

Ingredients

Farro, cooked and cooled

Green lentils*, cooked and cooled

Grated carrot

Grated beet

Kale, cut into thin ribbons and massaged with a dash of oil, vinegar and salt

Slivered almonds

Raisins

Dressing

1 TBSP            Good, extra virgin olive oil

3 TBSP            Balsamic vinegar

Fresh cracked pepper

Pinch              Salt

* Do you have difficulty digesting beans? Give lentils a try, they’re less “musical”, and check out my tips for making beans and lentils less gassy.

3 Simple Steps to Make Healthy Eating Your Reality

make healthy eating your reality

In our super-busy lives, eating can be way off our radar. You eat on the run, grabbing whatever, whenever and shoving it in your face as you answer emails, drive, work at your computer, etc. Does this sound familiar? Have you been trying to eat better but can’t seem to make it happen? It’s time to make eating a priority. Or, as Ellyn Satter (a dietitian whose work forms the foundation of my own) says:

Make Healthy Eating Your Reality: “Feed yourself faithfully.

This, I agree with Ellyn, is step #1 to healthy eating. Before you change a single thing that you put in your mouth, the first thing that you need to do is make feeding yourself a priority. It’s only by fluke that we achieve anything that we don’t make a priority.

If you want to make healthy eating your reality, day-to-day, , and not just a fluke, here are the 3 simple steps to take:

  1. Break out your calendar. Schedule in time to eat 3 meals and an afternoon snack. Schedule it every single day. Yes, actually book the time in your calendar.
  2. Schedule in time for grocery shopping and meal prep. Want to be an “A” student? Schedule a time for weekly meal planning.
  3. This is the tricky step. The step that is key to making healthy eating your reality. Don’t schedule other activities during your eating times. If you regularly bump eating for other priorities, you’ll end up in the frustration of eating well for a few days and then slipping back into unhealthy habits.

What if you can’t avoid occasionally breaking the rule in step #3? Make it a true double-booking (and not a substitution). Make that meeting a lunch date and choose a restaurant with healthy menu choices. Have a weekly mid-afternoon staff meeting? Propose that team members take turns bringing a healthy snack for everyone. Is your morning commute lengthy? Schedule time on the weekend to shop for and prep ingredients for healthy smoothies. Portion ingredients into individual baggies and freeze. Or, the night before, prepare overnight oats and enjoy your breakfast when you arrive at your desk.

Feeding yourself faithfully is the key to making healthy eating your reality. Your calendar is an essential tool to make it happen.

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NGC: No Sugar at Breakfast

no sugar at breakfast

This month’s nutrition game changer (NGC)* relates to breakfast. While I may not agree with the common sentiment that breakfast is the most important meal of the day (they’re all equally important), I have found that getting breakfast right can set you up for good energy all day. On the flip side, a couple of commonly-made breakfast mistakes can set you up for a day of cravings.

I’ve found that having a sugary breakfast can set you up to ride the blood sugar roller coaster all day long. By blood sugar roller coaster, I mean having your blood sugar spike after breakfast to subsequently cash making you crave sugar. After you eat the mid-morning donuts your blood sugar will spike and then crash again by lunch. And, again and again all day long.

I learned this one personally. While I always ate breakfast, for many years my breakfast of choice was toast with butter and jam and some fruit. I craved those donuts mid-morning, and other sugary treats all day long. I simply blamed it on my sweet tooth. When I switched up my breakfast to some plain yogurt with fruit, I noticed that I my sugar cravings decreased the whole day. I’ve continued to evolve my breakfast to be overnight oats, topped with nuts or seeds and fruit and I have fantastic energy all day long. Sure, I still enjoy something sweet most days. But it’s by choice. I’m not feeling controlled by my cravings.

Subsequently, I’ve found that I’m not the only one for whom this is an effective strategy. Decreasing the sugar (with a goal of completely removing the added sugar) at breakfast is something that I recommend for almost all of my clients. It consistently results in reduced cravings all day long.

To clarify, I’m talking about added sugars – not the natural sugar found in fruit. Added sugar is found in many seemingly-healthy breakfast cereals, in jam, in “fruit” yogurt, and when you add it to your coffee or tea.

Now if we’ve been connected for a while you’ll know that I’m not an anti-sugar hardliner (check out my “Why I’m Anti-Anti-Sugar” post). Healthy eating certainly can include the pleasure of sweets. I recommend enjoying them later in the day so that they don’t cause you day-long cravings.

*A Nutrition Game Changer (NGC) is a food or habit that has made a big impact on the nutritional health of clients I’ve worked with. And, in my life too. Some may call these nutrition hacks. But I'm not a fan of that phrase. I share one NGC each month.

Curious about how I can help you achieve your health and nutrition goals? Schedule a (free) call to find out.

NGC: 'What I Like About My Body' Daily Practice

women hugging_medmed

A Nutrition Game Changer (NGC) is a food or habit that has made a big impact on the nutritional health of clients whom I’ve worked with. And, in my life too. Some may call these nutrition hacks. But I'm not a fan of that phrase. I share one NGC each month. Back in January I shared a habit that isn’t actually nutrition-related. Perhaps you could call it a “life game changer” or “life-hack”. International Women’s Day is one week away (Tues March 8th). To recognize it I thought that I would share with you another powerful “life game changer”.

Now since this habit isn’t a food or drink so you’re likely wondering why I’m sharing it. I’m sharing it because I’ve found it to be a powerful way to improve our day-to-day happiness.

So what’s this powerful habit? It’s having a daily ‘what I like about my body’ practice. At the end of each day, write down one thing that you like about your body. Some days it may be easy to choose something you love – your eyes, your hair, your powerful legs. Other days it may be more of a challenge, you may have to dig deep through your long list of the things you hate about your body to come up with things like “I can see” or “I have two legs and the ability to walk”.

I’ve added this practice to the action plans for every woman who has participated in my 40 Days to a Happy, Healthy You weight loss program. Many have told me how much they liked the practice (even those who originally resisted it).

What’s the rationale for this practice? Back when I was doing my Masters degree I was exposed to feminist deconstruction of our cultural norms. I learned how we women usually don’t experience our bodies for ourselves. Instead, we experience our bodies through how we perceive others (usually men) to be viewing them. Our thoughts about our bodies are:

  • “Do I look fat?”
  • “How’s my hair look today?”

Instead of:

  • “I love the feeling in my lungs of drawing in a huge breath of fresh air.”
  • “I love the cozy, warm feeling of wrapping a big scarf around my neck.”

A daily ‘what I like about my body’ practice interrupts our usual external observer way of viewing our bodies. It allows a foot in the door for experiencing our own bodies for ourselves. With practice, that can open the door wide for positive body image.

Do you wish you were happier? Want to feel better about yourself? Even, like what you see in the mirror? Give a daily ‘what I like about my body’ practice a try. It’s a game changer.

Why I’m Anti-Anti-Sugar

sugar

In my notes to you I usually take a positive approach. Sharing what I want you to include more of in your eating habits. But I had an experience recently that’s caused something to be stuck in my craw. So I’m giving you fair warning that this is a rant. A rant about sugar. What was this experience? News was spreading around me about a person newly launching into the anti-sugar movement. On that same day, a message went around my office space about mini cupcakes being shared for everyone in the kitchen. Unfortunately (fortunately?), I was sitting at a desk, working away, just around the corner from the kitchen. I couldn’t avoid eavesdropping on the conversation that was being had by the small crowd who had gathered to eat cupcakes. What was this conversation? Things like…

“I shouldn’t be eating this.”

“I tried giving up on sugar before. I felt really great. But I’m too weak.”

“I eat way too much sugar.”

I wanted to run into the kitchen screaming. However, I didn’t because I learned long ago not to give unsolicited nutrition advice. But the experience has been playing over and over in my head. My desire to scream at the top of my lungs hasn’t dissipated. So consider this my scream.

We don’t eat cupcakes for their nutrition value!!! Cupcakes are about celebration. Joy. Pleasure. Eating cupcakes while feeling guilty, feeling shame, feeling disgust with yourself, now that’s a total waste of time (and calories). STOP IT!

Sugar: I give you permission to enjoy the pleasure of food

Between the 12+ years of practicing as a dietitian and the 8 years I took studying at University, I have 20 years of experience in nutrition. I’ve seen movements come and go. I’ve seen the anti-fat movement. I’ve seen the “soy is a miracle food” movement, followed by the “soy is the devil” movement. Now we’re firmly in the anti-sugar movement.

Like all the rest of the movements before them, the anti-sugar movement is only partially supported by scientific evidence. Science finds a suggestion of something and people run with it whole-hog, exaggerating the science way out of proportion and out of context. For example, the recent World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations on limiting sugar consumption are often cited as evidence for the anti-sugar movement. But if you read the actual WHO document, you’ll see that there is evidence that the more sugar a population eats, the more health concerns they experience. But there isn’t evidence that sugar needs to be zero. That’s why they recommended limiting added sugar to 10% of your calories. There just wasn’t evidence that there is harm in consuming less than that.

What I’ve learned is that while people, like the new anti-sugar woman who sparked this message to you, may have only the best of intentions, they do more harm than good.

These movements treat food like it’s just fuel for our bodies. But food is so much more than that. Food is a source of pleasure and it’s a connection to our family, history, and culture. Treating food like it’s just fuel for our bodies asks us to deny an instrumental part of who we are as human beings. It’s virtually impossible to deny those fundamental parts of ourselves. But wanting to be “good”, wanting to be “healthy”, people try. And, inevitably they fail. When you do fail, it brings feelings of failure, guilt, shame. And as Brene Brown teaches us, none of those feelings are healthy. In fact, she teaches us that shame in particular gets in the way of creating change and health. When I work with people, these feelings are the barrier that we need to first get over before we can start the process of adopting healthy habits.

Now before you go accusing me of recommending that we all should eat tons of sugar, let me be really clear. I believe that healthy eating is finding the balance of eating in a way that supports our body, mind, and soul. Eating nothing but sugar isn’t healthy for the body. The key word here is BALANCE. To truly understand nutrition, you need to get yourself out of the dichotomous way of thinking. Food is neither “good” nor “bad”, “healthy” nor “unhealthy”. Eating too much or too little of anything is what’s unhealthy. Denying yourself the pleasure of food is unhealthy. Eating mindlessly is unhealthy.

I would way rather you fully engage in the pleasure of eating a piece of chocolate cake, then mindlessly crunch some carrot sticks which you chose out of self-hate and deprivation.

Give yourself permission to enjoy the pleasure of food. It’s the first step in healthy eating.

Curious about how I can help you achieve your health and nutrition goals? Schedule a (free) call to find out.